Bullish: Do-Gooding on a Dollar a Day

I do a lot of things in life just in case I get hit by a bus.

When I donated my eggs (to gay men, in 2005 — more here), I was satisfied on some deep evolutionary level that I had passed on my genes. (Little mini-half-gay-Jen: You are five! Or six! I hope you inherited my math skills! You are probably very nearsighted!)

There are some other things I do as a way of paying rent on this planet. In one case, I actually did this by paying rent — I read a sad article about a terminally ill person’s arduous and ineffective attempts to fundraise for his own funeral and death expenses, so I paid his rent for a month. It seems rude to say more about that, but I write about working more and better (Bullish: Maybe Work-Life Balance Means You Should Work MORE) so that that feeling of helplessness we feel in the face of the world’s indifference to suffering can actually be abated somewhat.

I’ve written a lot about do-gooding lately, partly in response to the Occupy Wall Street protests (see Bullish: Occupy Wall Street Will Affect Your Career – How to Succeed Without Being An A**hole and Bullish: Actually, We’re All Kind of the 1%). I actually have a lunch later today with a successful lady who commented that it would be very convenient to meet me down near Wall Street, since she had to be in the neighborhood anyway to divest from Merrill Lynch and put her money into socially responsible investment vehicles.

I think there’s an American lady-dream (I own this phrase now! I googled it and it mostly just brings up mail-order bride sites advertising “American dream ladies,” which is not the same thing) that is universal enough to deserve articulation: the American lady-dream (as I first mentioned here) “surely involves some combination of education, achievement, respect from one’s colleagues and peers, healthy and pleasurable relationships, and contribution to the world.”

I also wrote in Bullish: How to Use Your Career to Make the World a Better Place that, if you’re on the up-and-up, it’s totally ethically acceptable to postpone your do-gooding until later in life, when you’ve amassed power and money.

I’ve also frequently written that if you have access to power and money, the best thing you can do is maintain and cultivate those assets so you can use them for good; it does nothing for the world if you disown your rich family and all their connections so you can sing folk songs about peace. Remember comedian Sarah Silverman’s The Great Shlep? In 2008, Silverman encouraged young liberal Jews to call or visit their elderly Jewish grandparents in Florida and convince them to vote for Obama. Good fucking idea. I believe in sucking it up and getting along for good.

So, if your startup is just taking off or your other grand plans are in the works, I support your postponing philanthropy until later. But if your plans are not that grand (at least not in terms of money and power), or you just want to expand your lady-dream portfolio, here are some small ways to make the world a bit better right now.

Funny Magnets


Philanthroper is like one of those daily deal sites, but: “Instead of selling something, we’re sharing the story of a new 501(c)3 nonprofit every day. And if you’d like, you can give them $1 (or up to $10). We’re trying to make doing good a habit.” That’s right — all they want is $1, and the maximum donation is $10. So for $10, you can actually feel like a big spender! Today, “$1 provides $5 in books for kids.” Furthermore, when you sign up for Philanthroper, you get a Stats page where you can earn medals! Little cartoon pictures of medals! Look, I am, among other professions, a teacher and tutor to adults, and I can tell you: even college graduates really like it when I draw a star or happy face on their papers. If I whip out the actual gold star stickers, people lose their shit. How long’s it fucking been since you got a gold star? Yeah, you want one right now, don’t you? I thought so.

I heard about Philanthroper through the Women’s Education Project, which emailed me to inform me that their “deal” was ending soon! So rarely is giving to a nonprofit a limited-time offer! Good marketing! Through WEP, $21 a month can provide a college scholarship. If your own student loans are eating you alive, the idea that you can pay someone else’s entire college bill for that kind of cash is sort of a weird good-ironic way of sticking it to the man.

just wants you to mail books (and maybe small care items, like hand sanitizer) overseas, which actually the post office makes it really cheap and easy to do (flat rate boxes can be sent overseas for $12.95). You may actually already even own some of the books that soldiers are requesting — many just request “sci-fi,” “true crime,” or other wide genres. One female soldier requested “anything by women authors,” but by the time I got there, about ten people had already sent her about a hundred Pearl S. Buck and Maya Angelou titles.

Local nonprofits are often the ones where your small amount of money goes the furthest. Who isn’t a sucker for a nonprofit school for girls in poverty that has an Amazon wishlist that contains a $2.08 box of pencils? (Okay, I admit, I’m biased: guess who the Connelly Center’s new SAT teacher is?) But seriously, the center is also asking for classical music CDs (“to promote concentration while studying”). The biggest item on the list? A globe. Some girls need a globe. For reals. DonorsChoose.org is a similarly-minded site wherein teachers post requests (“We need twelve sets of books of African folktales!”) and you can fund those requests.

Finally, Canadian nonprofit Imagine1Day, which builds schools in Ethiopia, created a word for “a currency for giving that would selfishly fulfill contributors first and, in doing so, elevate their communities and communities in Ethiopia.” They call it “Creatribution” — encouraging people to use creative skills and talents to fundraise innovatively. Check out more here. Or, if you donate cash, Imagine1Day has kindly broken down exactly what every component of a new school (and accompanying latrine) costs: you can buy roof beams for $10.10. It’s only $16.53 for a teacher’s chair! Some of the teachers literally don’t have chairs, at all (before Imagine1Day gets there, many villages have school under a tree, where the children complain that they are “bothered by animals.” I can only imagine.)

Finally, we might all get hit by buses! (Don’t we all get hit by the bus of death eventually anyway? It’s as good a metaphor as a “reaper.” What are we, agrarians?)

If you have savings, where’s it going to go after you die? If you’ve got all kinds of property and kids and trusts and whatnot, you probably want to see a lawyer about making a will, but if your situation is simple (“Please give $5K of my savings to whoever adopts my dog for life, and the rest to Greenpeace”), you can actually make a legal will, for free, on the internet — DoYourOwnWill.com‘s documents are valid in all states except Louisiana.

I think there will be more Bullish columns coming about the American lady-dream, or the idea of developing a portfolio representing a full and well-lived life (see Bullish: Extreme Advance Planning For Very Smart Women).

I think some of us might have been a bit disserved by parents and teachers who blithely said, “I just want you to do what makes you happy.” That puts a lot of people into the American Idol audition line and, furthermore, makes them horrible romantic partners and friends (see this column about overcoming narcissism, in which I commented that babies are very selfish and that “Anyone who would suck on someone else’s tits ten times a day without so much as a thank you is not someone we should be emulating.”)

My future children aren’t getting told “I just want you to do what makes you happy.” When they want to give up on hard things to do stupid and lazy things, they won’t have that to fall back on. They’ll hear from birth, “I want you to live a life you’ll be proud of when you’re old.” I’m pretty sure happiness is a byproduct of that.

originally published on The Gloss

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